The Riker Scale is one of my favorite features of Riker’s Block. I love debating, ranking, and exploring movies every year, and it’s awesome to point friends to the list whenever they are in need of recommendations. I also love reading, and I figured that there is no better time than a quarantine to develop my list of favorite books. So I’m excited to introduce The Pantheon, a figurative shelf of my 16 favorite titles.
I read a lot of the same types of books: books by prominent authors like John Grisham and Agatha Christie, fast-paced books, and, probably the most, sports books. There are a bunch of each in The Pantheon, and a couple of other ones as well. In creating The Pantheon, I developed a list of criteria that a book had to fulfill to make the cut. To make it, a book must, in my eyes, be:
- Essential – I can’t have a Pantheon without it.
- Unimpeachable – I can’t make a strong argument against including it in The Pantheon.
- Enriching — While the book can be mainstream and fast-paced, it makes me think.
- Engrossing — The book makes me want to keep reading, both it and other books.
- Crafty — There is at least one thing about the way the author wrote the book that stands out or makes my smile.
The books are not ranked; if they’re in The Pantheon, they’re in. Also, I opted against splitting hairs between books in series, so series in The Pantheon will have a (S) next to them.
Without further ado…
- 11/22/63 by Stephen King — This lengthy thriller details a time-traveller’s quest to prevent the JFK assassination. It’s 849 pages, yet holds an intensity and vivacious quality throughout that makes it a definite page-turner.
- The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown — This is my favorite sports book of all-time. Though I haven’t rowed, this book engaged me with its thorough understanding of the sport and athletics in general, and Brown’s ability to animate races decades in the past is stunning.
- Ready Player One by Ernest Cline — Teenager Wade Watts finds the first clue in a worldwide contest in the virtual reality world OASIS, causing his real and virtual worlds to turn upside down in this futuristic and pop culture-heavy thriller. It’s a fast-paced, stylish, imaginative read, and the book carries a cynicism and dark side absent from the critically panned film adaptation.
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie — One of the most famous mysteries by the most prolific mystery writer, And Then There Were None has the best premise (10 people stranded on an island, one of them a killer) and the plot unfolds beautifully.
- Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand — There’s a shard of sports in the beginning (distance running!), but the story of Louis Zamperini is primarily a World War II tale of remarkable endurance and faith. The book is elevated by heartbreaking, poignant scenes that make the final payoff so rewarding.
- Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton — The movie is my second-favorite all-time, and though my preferences lie closer to the film adaptation than its source, the plot is all-out brilliant, even if the writing itself doesn’t as page-turning as many of the other titles on the list.
- Renegades by Marissa Meyer (S) — I love the superhero movie genre, but Meyer attempts the rare triumphant superhero novel trilogy and pulls it off perfectly. The perspective bounces between Nova, an Anarchist girl disguised as a Renegade recruit, and Adrian, a Renegade who also works as a vigilante. The world-building is fantastic and the moral quandries are fascinating through each of the three books.
- Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling (S) — How could I leave out the most epic book series of all-time? I barely made the end of the Harry Potter hysteria as a third-grader, and it’s the only truly rereadable book series. As for favorites, I’d rank them 5, 2, 1, 4, 3, 7, 6, though each works tremendously well as a stand-alone and in a series.
- Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger — It’s the original immersive sports character study, one so great that it spawned a movie, a TV show, and legions of imitators across bookstores. The characters and their realities shine brighter than the action on the gridiron, and it’s the rare sports book that I constantly reference.
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt — Ah yes, a (somewhat) literary choice. The Goldfinch was the focus of my critical paper in my AP Literature, and its complex and hardhly believable narrative is propelled by interesting existential questions, most crucially: does one’s past define his future? (I got an A on the paper so that might also help its placement on this list)
- The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull — I haven’t read this book since elementary school, but I was such a big fan of this novel as a kid that I can’t leave it off the list. It should be a blockbuster movie. Mull, the author of the similarly entertaining Fablehaven series, weaves a thrilling story around kids who eat candies with magical powers, but find themselves implicated in a sinister power struggle.
- Legend by Marie Lu (S) — It’s Hunger Games, but with a less marketable concept and better execution. The Legend trilogy sees its protagonists rebel against their dystopian communities and the boundary between right and wrong, and Lu’s fast-paced writing makes this a series I could never put down.
- ABC Murders by Agatha Christie — I had to put at least one Hercule Poirot mystery in The Pantheon, and though it isn’t the most iconic or clever one, ABC Murders is my favorite. Like ATTWN, ABC Murders has a fascinating premise and benefits greatly from the presence of a villanous foil who toys with the acclaimed Belgian detective.
- A Time to Kill by John Grisham — I loved John Grisham’s kid-oriented Theodore Boone series when I was growing up, and my first big-time Grisham novel (also his first) was no disappointment. The legal thriller is a fun read with an abundance of action, yet still masters the burning uncertainty of an underdog lawyer going up against the establishment that has become a trademark of Grisham novels.
- The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald — If you want to hear a heated literary take, ask someone what they think of The Great Gatsby. I enjoyed reading, but even more than that, discussing with my AP Lang class this literary classic, which tackles the ideal of the American Dream and whether it is a concept grounded in reality.
- A Civil War: Army vs. Navy – A Year Inside College Football’s Purest Rivalry by John Feinstein — Feinstein has been one of my favorite, if not my absolute favorite sportswriter, and his peak has to be A Civil War. While Feinstein has applied his practice of ingratiating himself in an array of concepts from college basketball to the Baltimore Ravens, it works best in this examination of the football rivalry between the two major military academies. They aren’t the two best teams, but what happens on the field means so much, and Feinstein captures everything that makes this storied rivalry special.